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Supervisor Siller outlines budget proposal

The initial draft of Shelter Island Town’s budget — the one submitted by Supervisor Gerry Siller — calls for a 3.1% increase in spending.

If the budget were to stand as is, taxes to support 2021 spending would increase from $9.8 million this year to $10.2 million next year.

But those draft numbers will undergo intense scrutiny by Town Board members during meetings with one another and then town department heads and committee chairs who will be heard before a budget is finalized in November.

The Town Board began discussions on Friday, Sept. 25, with Mr. Siller offering a quick run-through on his proposal and agreeing there are areas that will have further discussion.

Some proposed cuts will need further explanation, while others are self explanatory. Many expenditures are the result of contractual agreements and can’t be changed.

The price of water

At the same time, there are cuts that can result from using sources of money other than from current taxpayers.

Among those are fees paid to the Waterways Management Advisory Council and money from the Community Preservation Fund (CPF). Money for the CPF comes from a 2% tax that buyers pay when purchasing East End properties and is used in turn to purchase open space for preservation and fund water protection programs.

The Town Board will determine how much money is already spent from those sources and how much is encumbered for future payments.

With the CPF money, the board wants to take a look at whether the effort to reduce the nitrogen content in water can be achieved better by helping to fund major projects, such as a system that could serve large buildings in the Center, more than individual grants to homeowners to upgrade their septic systems.

Some water quality improvement projects have already received money, including helping to fund a study of what could be done in the Center. Grants would still be needed to offset actual construction costs.

COVID-19 and the budget

In his message that accompanied release to the Town Board of the budget draft, Mr. Siller noted that $167,000 has been spent to date for expenses not anticipated in the current budget.

Almost half of that has been related to COVID-19 costs, the supervisor said. The rest has gone for renovations to the Medical Center and increased staffing in the town clerk’s office.

“We hope to receive up to 75% reimbursement for the COVID related expenses,” Mr. Siller said.

“I have taken a conservative approach to spending allocations, using previous year’s actuals as a baseline.”

He has also taken a conservative approach to revenue that can offset spending in 2021.

Mr. Siller said he anticipates decreased revenues from fees paid for Recreational Department activities.

At the same time, he’s expecting increased real estate purchases, stimulated by COVID-19 as people chose to move to the Island, and is expected to provide more in mortgage tax revenues, Mr. Siller said.

With the end of the 4-poster program — feeding stands that brush deer with a tickicide, permethrin — as mandated by New York State, money for corn and servicing of units will be shifted to culling the herd.

Difficult choices

One expenditure likely to result in some controversy is a proposed $10,000 cut to the $15,000 the Historical Society received.

A similar cut was proposed for the current budget, only to be restored after Society Director Nanette Lawrenson made the case for what services the Society provides to the community and why it counts on money from the town.

Among other major proposals for spending changes in 2021 are:

• A freeze on salaries for all elected officials and appointed members of the Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals and Assessment Board of Review.

• Reduced overtime pay for workers in some specific departments.

• Revamping of the town’s nutrition program based on the anticipated retirement of long-time Director Karin Bennett. Ms. Bennett will be leaving her position, but moving to Senior Services for 20 hours a week as an aide to Director Laurie Fanelli. Sara Mundy, who had functioned as an aide to Ms. Fanelli, will take over the role of nutrition director.

• Revamping of the Building and Media departments.

• Increases in hauling materials from the Recycling Center.

• Funds needed to update the town’s comprehensive plan that includes an allocation for a consultant to guide that process.

However, contractual agreements and fixed costs will still block the ability to cut spending for the majority of expenditures, Mr. Siller said.

The Town Board has slated three additional meetings to discuss the budget and decide which department chiefs or committee chairs need to be brought in for future discussions.

The three scheduled Town Board budget meetings are from 9 a.m. to noon on Thursday, Oct. 1, and 9:30 to noon on Monday, Oct. 5, and Thursday, Oct. 8.